UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The North American skyway systems : a post implementation evaluation Pati, Debajyoti


Towards the beginning of the twentieth century technological innovations in the transportation sector generated strong centrifugal forces in the settlement pattern of North American urban agglomerations. The birth of the electric Street Cars led to rapid suburbanization of cities. The subsequent invention of private Automobiles resulted in a quantum jump in intra-city travel, and associated problems involving traffic congestion, atmospheric pollution, and accident rates. A rapid deterioration in the vitality of Central City areas followed. Downtowns across the continent gradually lost their position as the principal commercial, entertainment, cultural, and retail center of large tracks of residential areas. While cities were experimenting with hosts of ideas and strategies to rejuvenate the central city vitality, a revolutionary idea evolved. City planners and architects, through the participation of the public and business groups, linked extensive areas of downtown through bridges and corridors, which got referred to as the Skyway System. Through the development of the system, cities hoped to solve an array of downtown problems involving transportation, urban redevelopment, and commerce. The system seemed to work well. However, most of the evaluations were conducted within the realms of transportation planning, and little information was available regarding the system's performance as a public place and a downtown attraction, in the realms of urban redevelopment. A survey conducted in 1988 hinted at the possibility of the system not performing as an urban public place. But without any conclusive evidence the question remained unanswered. As an initial step towards evaluating the system's performance in areas of urban development, the system was compared with another contemporaneous strategy; the pedestrian mall which was implemented with identical objectives, and the conventional sidewalks on city streets which have been a part of the urban landscape from the beginning of human civilization. Two areas were emphasized in the evaluation process. The first area pertained to the usage pattern, and the user population of the facilities. And the second area involved an examination of the physical and behavioral set up of the environment with an intention of establishing, wherever possible, a relationship between the similarities/differences in the physical environment and corresponding similarities/differences in usage pattern. Data on user activity was recorded through simple observation on behavioral data recording sheets, on weekdays and weekends on all the facilities. The survey was conducted on the Skyway System, and Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis, over a period of twenty days during summer 1990. Statistical analysis of the collected data demonstrated a striking similarity in usage population and usage pattern between the Skyway System and the Nicollet Mall. But, the Skyway System and the conventional street had many differences. Together, the Skyway System and the mall, represented a marked progress in the design of urban public spaces, from the conventional sidewalks. However, many problems persisted on the skyway segments, the foremost being the acute lack of furnishing elements on the system, and improper spatial configuration of those upper level areas. Besides, certain degree of change to the management strategy of skyway spaces proved essential. The thesis concludes with a few suggestions concerning modification to the physical environment, and the management strategy in order to extract maximum benefit out of the system development.

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